New liver, new life
Two-decade wait for organ transplant ends for longtime Chicoan
When David Guzzetti—the local caterer, gardener, radio programmer and feisty and outspoken City Council member of four terms—was diagnosed with hepatitis C, he was told he probably had five to six years to live.
That was 21 years ago.
Guzzetti finally received a new liver at San Francisco’s California Pacific Medical Center three weeks ago. He recently spoke with the CN&R over the phone from his temporary quarters in San Francisco, explaining that he’d moved up on the list 3 1/2 years ago when doctors discovered cancer on the surface of his damaged liver. The priority list for those waiting for a donated organ is based not on how long the person’s been on the list, but rather on his or her relative state of health.
“I went through chemotherapy and the cancer cleared up,” said Guzzetti, his voice a bit weary but his humor good. “It got me moved up on the list.”
About 3.2 million Americans have hepatitis C, according to WebMD.com, and without treatment 15 percent to 30 percent develop cirrhosis of the liver and a smaller percentage develop liver cancer.
Guzzetti believes he contracted the disease while serving as an Army medic some 24 years before receiving the diagnosis in 1994. That service included time in a hepatitis ward in Virginia, where he likely was exposed to the disease after getting accidentally pricked by a contaminated hypodermic needle. Guzzetti learned he had hepatitis C not because symptoms drove him to the doctor, but because he was overdue for a physical. He hadn’t had one since his discharge from the Army more than two decades earlier.
He remained fairly healthy for about 10 years after his diagnosis, and required no treatments. But things took a turn for the worse in 2004; that year, he almost bled to death internally. Guzzetti said he spent three days in a coma at Enloe Medical Center, where he was treated with an internal stint to stop the bleeding. At that point, he began taking prescription drugs because of the hepatitis.
“I was very lucky to recover and lucky again with a very slow descent from then on,” he said. “I lost about 40 percent of my upper body mass over time and got weaker and had less energy over time.”
Now in recovery from his transplant operation, doctors have told him his new liver is working well and he should be able to go home before Memorial Day, though, because of his lowered immune system, he will not be interacting with the public.
“The infection possibilities are too high, so there will be no personal contacts, no shaking hands, none of that,” Guzzetti said. “I cannot be around those with unclean hands and especially those who are carrying germs from any illnesses that they may have.”
Guzzetti’s taking quite a number of medications—40 pills a day—including a drug to counteract the body’s potential rejection of the new organ that causes drastic mood swings. It’s one of the most difficult for patients to handle. He said he will be taking the various medications for several months before the dosage finally begins decreasing.
“I’m getting better every day and my new liver is doing beautifully,” he said. “It’s been such a relief. The last couple of years, my health went down slowly, but now doctors are optimistic that things are going well. Still, this is not an easy thing to do.”
Guzzetti doesn’t know any details about the liver donor but was told he could send an anonymous letter to the donor’s family to give his thanks and appreciation. He’s also thankful for support from his son, Woody, and his wife, Kim, who has taken time away from her job with the Butte County Office of Education to help care for him.
“I am a lucky man,” he said. “I’m getting support from caregivers and friends as well.”
Another positive sign, he said, is the fact that he was released from the hospital eight days after the transplant, even though the doctors said it would take 12 or more days.
“Yeah, so I’m ahead of the curve,” he said. “I can’t be left alone and I have a couple of friends who have been stopping by to do caretaking.”
Now he’s staying in a two-room apartment about a block from the hospital, which owns and rents the apartment at what Guzzetti called “a very good rate.” It’s a convenient setup because he still has regular morning visits to the hospital for tests and medical evaluations.
Living in an apartment, he said, is much better than staying in a hospital room.
“It’s a two-bedroom where we can cook for ourselves and watch TV,” he said. “Thank God for TV sports.”
As a very loyal Atlanta baseball fan, he then launched into an unprompted prediction of how he sees this year’s Braves team: “It’s going to be an off year.”
All things considered, Guzzetti said, he can take that in stride.
One of his recent Facebook posts to his friends said: “[W]hen I get back to the garden I must be protected from the sun and wear gloves to protect me from possible fungi in the soil … it is a whole new ballgame of alertness in this unique attempt at a healthier life … thank you all for your kindness and support … I love you all.”